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Shining a cosmic light on opera at the School of Music

CASS news and events page feed - Tue, 29/07/2014 - 18:55
Image Orpheo.jpg

The ANU School of Music is putting a modern twist on a traditional genre, when Opera meets technology during a performance coming to Llewellyn Hall. 

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Why swimming records stand, even with a broken pool floor

The Conversation - Tue, 29/07/2014 - 17:48
Despite the slightly shallower (and slower) Tollcross pool, Australia's Daniel Fox set a world record in the Men's 200m Freestyle S14 heat.Joe Giddens/PA Wire

You may have seen some controversy regarding water depth in the Tollcross International Swimming Centre being used for competition at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games.

The pool has a movable floor that allows water depth to be altered, but the hydraulic mechanism became caught just before competition began and wasn’t able to be fixed.

Instead of the planned constant depth of 2m, the pool starts at 2m, but rises to a depth of 1.88m at the 12m length, before then dropping back to 2m deep. This hump in the bottom has led some people to question the legality of records being set in the pool.

But how much of a problem is it, really?

Underwater reflections

FINA, the international swimming federation, only requires that competition pools be a minimum of 1.35m deep within 6m of the end walls, and they may be as shallow as 1m for the rest of the pool.

This contrasts with the requirements for Olympic Games and World Championships that specify a minimum depth of 2m throughout, and depths of 3m have been used at recent Olympic Games.

Water depth is of importance because it affects the reflection of waves within the water.

With a shallower pool, waves created by swimmers can reflect back off the pool bottom and create extra resistance on the swimmers. This increased wave drag would slow swimmers down and make it more difficult to achieve world record times.

There should, therefore, be no question about the validity of swimming records being set at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games.

The Australian women’s 4x100m freestyle team broke a world record. Joe Giddens/PA Wire

Although the pool does not correspond to Olympic standards, it greatly exceeds the minimum FINA requirements for other competitions, and the difference would actually be expected to make it more difficult to achieve fast swim times.

Building a ‘fast pool’

While the pool depth may not be optimal, other aspects of the Tollcross Pool correspond to the modern requirements for a “fast pool”:

  • rather than just having eight lanes for competition, the pool was built with ten lanes; the outer two lanes being left vacant during competition. Similar to the effect of pool depth, having a greater distance between swimmers and the pool depth reduces the effect of waves reflecting back off the edge
  • the side edges of the pool are slightly below water level so that waves flow over the edge into the drainage, rather than reflecting back
  • modern lane ropes resist the transmission of waves between lanes and the use of wider, 2.5m lanes further assist the isolation of waves moving between swimmers.

Danny Lawson/PA Wire

These aspects of pool design affect wave drag, which has been estimated to contribute between 5-12% of the total drag on a swimmer.

At the time of writing this article, new Commonwealth records have been set in 28 different events, about 74% of the total conducted thus far, and world records have been set for four events: the Women’s 4x100m Freestyle relay, Men’s 100 m Freestyle S9, Women’s 100m Freestyle S8 and the Men’s 200 m Freestyle S14.

There should be no suggestion that these records were assisted by the swimming pool floor malfunction. If anything, this would be more likely to have decreased performance than to have enhanced it.

The results here don’t seem remarkably different to the 26 Commonwealth records set in Delhi in 2010. It is a normal result for times to reduce each four years through increases in the capability of athletes.

Peter Sinclair does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

Framed? Julia Gillard and the gender wars

Events & seminars - Tue, 29/07/2014 - 17:02
OTHER Framed? Julia Gillard and the gender wars
Friday, 1 August 2014 at 4:00 PM - 5:30 PM
Law Link Theatre, Building 7, Fellows Road, ANU
Join pannelists Professor Linda Trimble, W/Prof Carmen Lawrence, and journalist Christine Wallace on the 30th anniversary of the Australian Sex Discrimination Act (1984) for a lively and hard-hitting discussion, facilitated by ANU Gender Institute Convenor Dr Fiona Jenkins, about the sexism that many believe contributed to Julia Gillard's downfall a year ago - and more broadly, to consider how media frame women in public life. more»

When an economist politician plays with numbers, you can get some surprising results

The Conversation - Tue, 29/07/2014 - 16:09

Andrew Leigh with his earlier book Battlers and Billionaires. AAP/Alan Porritt

As books by or about present and former politicians rain down, Labor frontbencher Andrew Leigh, a one-time academic, has produced something for the superior trivia night.

The shadow assistant treasurer is the ultimate magpie in his discipline of economics. There is nothing he can’t explain by the dismal science, whatever might be said about damned lies and statistics. The Economics of Just About Everything might be a diversion as politics tragics chew over former Labor minister Greg Combet’s The Fights of My Life, Madonna King’s Hockey: Not Your Average Joe, and Mark Latham’s The Political Bubble, all out within a week.

Leigh had a special interest in the effect of the Howard gun buyback scheme, because of personal connections with two of Australia’s worst gun massacres. Hoddle Street killer Julian Knight is Leigh’s adopted second cousin (he’s never met him); one of the Port Arthur victims mentored Leigh at a law firm where he worked as a summer clerk.

The buyback had one “rock solid” result. Australia averaged more than one mass shooting a year (involving five or more people being killed) in the decade before the buyback – between 1987 and 1996, 94 victims were killed in mass shootings. In the decade after the legislation there wasn’t a mass shooting.

Leigh puts the chance of this being just luck at less than one in 100.

But actually the buyback reduced gun deaths mainly through fewer domestic shootings and suicides. Leigh and another researcher looked at whether places with more buybacks had a larger drop in gun homicide and suicide. The answer was yes.

With firearm suicide, the greatest reduction in weapons was in Tasmania, which had the biggest drop in these deaths. The smallest reduction in firearms per person was in Canberra, which saw the smallest drop in the firearms suicide rate. “Overall, we estimated that the Australian gun buyback saved at least 200 lives per year – mostly suicides.”

Leigh noted that one’s chances of being a victim of homicide in the late 2000s was about half what it had been in the late 1980s.

He has posited a couple of unexpected causes – legalised abortion and unleaded petrol – with Australia following US trends.

Although changes in the circumstances in which abortions could be legally performed (following court decisions) did not occur everywhere at the time, for more than two-thirds of the Australian population the change happened in the late ‘60s or early '70s – about 20 years before the crime rates dropped. There was “some evidence that the drop in homicide occurred first in the states that legalised abortion the earliest”.

The effect of legalising abortion, he says, has only a minor effect on the number of children born. “The main effect is not that families have fewer children, but rather that all of these children are born when the parents feel ready to raise them” – making them less likely later to fall into crime.

Children exposed to lead are more likely have behavioural difficulties and, when they become adults, to commit crimes, according to research. In the United States, lead was phased out of petrol between 1975 and 1985. Two decades later, it was found the sharpest drop in violent crime occurred in the states that were the first to reduce lead levels.

In Australia the phase-out didn’t start until 1986, but happened at the same time nationwide. “If we assume that the impact on crime was similar in both countries, it suggests that unleaded petrol might have been responsible for reductions in crime as late as the mid-2000s.”

Turning to the field of sport, Leigh declares that perhaps the biggest piece of luck you can have is to be born in the right month of the year. To make the case, he has looked at the birthdays of the general population in the 1980s and those of samples of top cricket, rugby league and soccer players, along with the age cut-off that applied to most of them when they were children.

There is little difference in the general population between the proportion born in the least and most common months for births (February and March respectively).

But for cricket, NRL and soccer, there are spikes just after the cut-off date. “This shows an excess of players who would have been among the oldest in their teams when playing age-graded sports.

“In cricket, the most common birth month is November (the third month after the cut-off), while in league and soccer the most common birth month for elite players is the month directly after the cut-off. A boy born in January is nearly twice as likely to play first-grade rugby league as a boy born in December. A boy or girl born in August is more than twice as likely to play soccer for Australia than a child born in July.”

Also, when the youth soccer cut-off point was changed (until the late 1980s it was January 1), the birth dates began to change. “If you look at the distribution of top soccer players' birthdays in that era, the most common season of birth is the first few months of the year. But when the cut-off date was shifted, the birthdates of top soccer players began shifting too. It’s a fair bet that if we hadn’t changed the cut-off age for youth soccer, the Matildas and the Socceroos would contain more members with January birthdays and fewer members with August birthdays.”

Strangest of all are the death statistics on either side of July 1, 1979, the day federal inheritance taxes were abolished.

Leigh (building in the odd assumption) estimates that about half of those who would have paid inheritance taxes if they’d died in June “managed to shift their date of death to July”.

“How do people shift their date of death? One possibility is that families were considering whether to turn off life support. Another is that through force of will, people were able to hang on for another week. It’s also possible descendants misreported the date of death to the authorities … we can’t be sure precisely how so many people managed to avoid inheritance taxes in the final week: we just know that they did it.”

At the end, this flouts the observation about death and taxes being the two givens in life.

Michelle Grattan does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

Carmichael mine is a game-changer for Australian coal

The Conversation - Tue, 29/07/2014 - 15:16
The Saraji coal mine in the Bowen coal basin produces around 5 million tonnes of coal each year. Adani's Carmichael mine could produce up to 60 million. Image Library/Flickr, CC BY

The Carmichael coal project, approved this week by environment minister Greg Hunt, is unprecedented in its scale, and also represents a significant shift in Australia’s coal industry.

If the mine goes ahead — Adani is yet to make a final commitment — it will be Australia’s largest, and represents the start of the opening up of Australia’s Galilee Basin, one of Australia’s richest coal reserves.

Most of the environmental concerns have focused on climate, groundwater, and indirect impacts on the Great Barrier Reef. The mine was approved with 36 conditions, many to offset damage to water; potential impacts on the Great Barrier Reef and climate were considered in the approval process but not included as development conditions.

However it is likely that the greenhouse emissions are a zero-sum game; even if the carbon emissions generated from burning the coal in India were included in the assessment, India would source coal from somewhere else.

Australia’s largest coal mine

The most notable feature of the new project is its sheer scale. If constructed, it will become the biggest mine in Australia, and one of the biggest in the world, producing an estimated 60 million tonnes of steaming coal each year over an estimated life of 60 to 90 years.

This dwarfs most existing mines nearby. There are currently almost 50 coal mines operating in the Bowen Basin, most producing between 5 and 10 million tonnes per year, and most with relatively short life spans of 10 to 30 years. The proposed mine is 6 to 12 times bigger than most operating mines, and will operate for at least twice as long.

Along with the change in the scale of operation come significant economic impacts. Queensland produced 284 million tonnes of coal with a total operating workforce of almost 29,000 people in 2013. This mine alone is set to have an operating workforce of 3,920 jobs, meaning that coal output and coal-mining employment would increase in Queensland by 21% and 13.5%, respectively.

The economic benefits will multiply back through regional, state and national economies. The varied location of coal employees and business suppliers, and the flow-on impacts to Government revenue, including royalties to the Queensland Government and company and income tax receipts to the Australian government, mean that the positive economic benefits will not only accrue to mining areas but much more widely across Queensland and Australia.

The proposed mine is remote from established communities in central-western Queensland, and development would be a welcome respite to businesses and workforce grappling with the recent downturn in the fortunes of the mining sector.

The big questions will focus on where the fly-in/fly-out (FIFO) workers will be sourced from and how much economic stimulus can be injected into regional communities. While the regional cities of Rockhampton, Mackay and Townsville are closest to the mine site, trends towards sourcing FIFO workers from further afield and capital cities do not guarantee that employment be sourced from the closest regional areas.

Linking Australian coal to Indian power

The Carmichael coal project is a proposal of Indian energy company Adani. Unlike most of Australia’s coal producers, Adani is essentially a power generator that is looking to secure energy sources into the longer term and to meet the growing demands for electricity in India.

This explains why, when prices for steaming coal are depressed internationally, Adani appears committed to the new mine and the scale of the infrastructure development needed, even though raising capital is challenging in the current environment. Currently exports to India at about 27 million tonnes each year from Queensland account for about 10% of the State’s coal production, so the new project would more than triple that level.

Most of the coal producers in Australia are content to specialise in their mining operations and then deal with the vicissitudes of market prices, as compared to investments by countries like China into Africa where control of supply chains is a primary driver.

Adani is yet to make the final investment commitment to the project, but if it does, it will signal the emerging importance of supply chain integration in the Australian mining sector.

Opening up the Galilee

The scale of the project is tied to another notable feature of this development; it will establish mining in the Galilee Basin. Unlike the Bowen Basin further to the east, the Galilee Basin has remained undeveloped because of its remoteness and because its vast reserves of coal are suitable for power generation (steaming coal) rather than the more valuable coking coal used for steel production.

Australia’s coal reserves, including the vast, untapped areas of the Galilee basin in inland Queensland. Geoscience Australia, CC BY

To develop the mine requires associated development of a rail corridor through to the coast for an additional A$2.1 billion, as well as the extension of the Abbott Point coal export at Bowen.

To meet the costs of these major infrastructure needs, there has to be enough coal. The size of the Carmichael proposal, and other proposed mines in the Galilee Basin by GVK Hancock (the Alpha Coal Project) and Clive Palmer (China First Coal Project) are at the scale needed to justify the huge infrastructure costs required.

Benefits outweigh the risks

This change in the scale of development also has implications for the environment.

These can be separated into four main groups: the impacts on terrestrial biodiversity of mine and rail corridor development, the potential impacts on groundwater from the mining operations, the impacts of the port development, including the dredging activities, and the greenhouse emissions associated with extra coal development and combustion.

Although the latter is the focus of criticisms from many environmental groups, emissions are essentially a zero-sum game if Indian power companies such as Adani simply source their coal from other sources.

A generation ago, the potential impacts on terrestrial biodiversity would probably have been the key environmental concern in Australia for a development of this kind. There are some substantial biodiversity impacts identified for the Carmichael Coal project, but the careful impact assessment process that is now required, the conditions imposed by both the Queensland and Australian governments, and the system of offsets that have to be established addresses these much more thoroughly than in the past.

It is notable that the headline environmental concerns now seem to be more focused on the issues where the impacts are much harder to predict with certainty — the groundwater and port development impacts. Again, the Queensland and Australian Government approvals come with strings attached. Adani has to comply with major conditions and offset the predicted impacts.

Ultimately both government approvals processes have judged that the risks of environmental impacts can be managed and that the large economic benefits outweigh those risks.

Professor John Rolfe’s work on the resources sector has focused on improving the assessments of the economic and social impacts of mining on communities in Queensland. This has included: Assessment of social and economic impacts conducted for industry in 2003, 2006 and 2011; Research on mining community impacts, labour force and housing issues, funded by the Australian Coal Association Research Program in 2004 and 2007; Research on regional planning and mining developments, funded by the Queensland Government in 2008; Research funded through CSIRO in the Minerals Down Under National Research Flagship from 2009 to 2012. Currently John Rolfe has no projects that relate to or are funded by the resources sector. He has never had any involvement or research with projects in the Galilee Basin, including the Carmichael Coal Project.

The Hamas government in Gaza has always been a tragic mess

The Conversation - Tue, 29/07/2014 - 15:15
Not looking good: exiled Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal.EPA/Mohammed Saber

Writing about conflict is always difficult because of the romantic Western need for good guys and bad guys. That makes it difficult to make sense of things when everyone’s hands are dirty.

Writing for a Western audience about any political organisation with Islamic foundations is difficult. This is particularly so when the organisation has a military wing and uses it to attack Israel.

So let’s get a few things out of the way first. Yes, the 1988 foundation Charter of Hamas sought the destruction of Israel and was a manifestly anti-Semitic document. Yes, Hamas has a history of suicide attacks on Israeli cities, more recently relying on indiscriminate rocket attacks. Yes, Hamas regarded itself at its inception as a Palestinian offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, which had its own jointly anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic ethos.

But to describe Hamas as merely a “terrorist” group, or to lump it in with al-Qaeda, al-Shabaab or ISIS is to fail to grasp its peculiar complexities, history, regional affiliations and purposes.

Going underground

The tunnels Hamas digs are examples of patient engineering – concrete-lined and roofed, inter-connected, they are effectively an underground suburb of Gaza.

There are two sets of tunnels. The ones that lead into Egypt (most of which Egypt has now destroyed) are wider, to accommodate smuggled goods that keep life in Gaza above the level of pure subsistence.

An Israeli soldier leads a tour of a captured tunnel. EPA/Jack Guez

Those leading into Israel, meanwhile, are narrow, suitable for fighters moving in single file; these are modelled on the Viet Cong tunnels used against US troops in the 1960s and 70s, but are better built.

Their entrances and exits can be destroyed, but the Israelis have no maps of the system. The tunnels so far discovered represent only the tip of an iceberg. To destroy the whole system, Israel would have to send troops into it – but because the tunnels are inter-connected like a subway train network, people in one tunnel can be attacked from the front, behind, or from the flanks.

What the tunnels represent in today’s world is part of Hamas’s twin-track strategy: both to fight back if desired, and to establish itself as part of a credible government of Palestine, not just of Gaza.

Chronically unstable

Each of these tracks destabilises the other. It cannot be a government, or part of one, that attacks Israel. It cannot become part of a democratically elected government without the grassroots popularity it achieves from attacking Israel. And Hamas is popular, in Gaza, and probably in Hebron, in the south of the West Bank – where Israel settler behaviour can be highly provocative.

And that’s the rub: Hamas was democratically elected as the government of Palestine in the elections of 2006. Neither Israel nor the West were prepared to accept this, and nor was Fatah, the PLO, which was democratically defeated.

In 2007, after failed negotiations with Western donor countries over their conditions for recognition of the new government, war broke out and Fatah defeated Hamas militarily in all parts of Palestine – except Gaza.

Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh (L) and Fatah’s Mahmoud Abbas. EPA/Ali Ali

As the beseiged government of a rump state in Gaza, Hamas immediately faced a blockade from Israel and from Mubarak’s Egypt, which was then (as it is again now) antipathetic to anything connected to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Weak gestures

Hamas has developed as a government during the blockade years, but it is not as united as it seems on the surface. Its senior ideologues maintain that the Charter’s opposition to Israel still stands – but the Hamas government has not formally adopted the Charter into any part of its legislative or other governmental programme.

In fact, it has more than once declared a willingness to accept a return to the 1967 borders between Israel and Palestine.

The short-lived Muslim Brotherhood government of Egypt came close to making a breakthrough here, with its moves to reassure the US and Israel it was not a threat to what had already been achieved in the region. If Mohamed Morsi had known how to do it – and he did not – that could have been the moment for a serious Egyptian diplomatic push to bring Hamas out of the cold and involve it in proper negotiations.

Even the Hamas ideologues say negotiations with Israel would be possible if Israel were first to issue a declaration recognising the rights of the Palestinians. This is a direct counterpoint to Western and Israeli demands that negotiations towards a long-term settlement can only be contemplated if Hamas first recognises Israel (as it has always refused to do), renouncing violence at the same time.

But violence is the only card Hamas holds against Israel, even though it has been largely ineffective and has incurred great costs – particularly the devastating Israeli invasions of 2008-9 and 2014.

Terms and conditions

Hamas sees the rights of the Palestinians in terms of three core demands: the right of Palestinian refugees to return to Palestine (Israel resists that as it could flood the area with Palestinians without sufficient land and work to absorb them); the integrity of Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital (it is claimed as the Israeli capital as well, and neither side is in the mood to discuss division); and the restoration of the 1967 borders (already a climb-down by Hamas from claiming all pre-Israeli Palestinian territory, but still unacceptable to Israel).

Since 1967, Israel has continued to build settlements within the West Bank, has built its great wall, and continues to administer and militarily command around 60% of the West Bank in what is called Area C.

The Palestinian Authority, meanwhile, has full control only over a very small portion (18%) of the West Bank, the so-called Category A territory that includes Hebron, Bethlehem and Ramallah. The remaining Category B territories are under Palestinian civil administration and Israeli military control. Essentially, outside the West Bank’s Category A territories, only Gaza is technically “free” – although it can hardly be described as such given the blockade, and renewed violence.

Israel’s control of the great majority of Palestine and all of Jerusalem means the land will never revert to the pre-1967 borders. Israel seeks a peace settlement of 1967 plus most of its current presence and safeguards on the West Bank, plus all of Jerusalem, plus no Palestinian right of return.

In that sense, there will almost certainly never be a full-blown negotiated two-state solution. Instead, Palestine will probably continue as a shadow state that cannot control its own territory.

Grim outlook

Fatah has sought to negotiate a division of the region in keeping with the Israeli vision of it, and to win whatever trade-offs and concessions it can. Hamas has not. While it is no longer hellbent on the destruction of Israel, whatever its most vocal ideologues say, its priority is the return to the 1967 borders, or nothing. For Israel, on the other hand, it is the conquered and occupied status quo post-1967, or nothing.

If no peace plan is possible, can there ever be a lasting ceasefire at least between Israel and Hamas over Gaza? Hamas says yes – but only if the blockade is lifted. Israel will not lift it until the rockets and tunnels are gone.

Neither side can sustain the current bloodshed, nor indefinitely withstand the mounting international condemnation. At the very least, Hamas will end the conflict weakened because it staked everything on pointless rocket attacks, while a further stigmatised and disapproved-of Israel will have to go on attacking Gaza every few years.

Meanwhile, new tunnels and new rockets will continue to be built and launched until some settlement is achieved.

As things stand, any such settlement will now almost certainly be based on an expanded Israeli state, with a few “independent” Palestinian municipalities surrounded on all sides by Israeli settlements, walls and roads. These areas will probably have no economic viability, and will remain dependent on Israel.

All of Palestine knows this is now the outlook. Fatah will sign up; Hamas says it will not – and that’s why Israel and the West want rid of it.

For better or worse (and right now, very much for worse), Hamas attracts a great deal of Palestinian support because it tried, unsuccessfully, very dirtily and at a terrible cost, to stand and fight.

Next, read: Israel’s stated aims in Gaza make no sense – and cannot secure a just future

Stephen Chan does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

Plans for schools to prioritise poorer applicants look fair, but could be a disaster

The Conversation - Tue, 29/07/2014 - 15:15
New admissions code could have unintended consequences.Barry Batchelor/PA Archive

Schools in England will now be able to prioritise children from poor families when deciding who gets a place. This sounds a fair and sensible policy, intended to promote “social mobility” and equality of access to “good” schools. But it could inadvertently create a two- or even three-track system of schooling.

The department for education in England has launched a public consultation on proposed changes to how school places are allocated to specific children.

The changes include useful clarifications about places for children born in the summer, and assurances that children adopted from local authority care are given priority places. However, the major change is that all schools would be allowed to prioritise applications for school places for those children in receipt of the pupil premium.

Children are designated as pupil premium if they are eligible for free school meals – if their parents are deemed to have an income below a set threshold. Children living in care, or with parents in the armed forces are also eligible. For 2014-15, the premium is currently £1,300 per primary-age pupil, £935 per secondary-age pupil, and £1,900 for looked-after children. This additional money is to help schools overcome the large inequalities in average attainment between pupil premium and others pupils.

There are some glitches with the pupil premium policy. Schools do not always know what to do with the money in order to reduce the poverty gap in attainment. And they find it hard to deny access to this funding for children that they know have very low attainment, even if they are not designated as eligible for pupil premium.

Also, there is missing data for around 4% of relevant pupils on whether they are eligible for free school meals. These children are treated as though they were not eligible for the premium even though there is evidence that this group is even more disadvantaged. But overall, the policy itself is imaginative, flexible and likely to be beneficial in the medium-term.

It could make no difference

So what will happen if all schools are allowed to prioritise places for such children, and the extra funding that comes with them? Priority to places in a school only matters if the school is over-subscribed – and if applications are actually made by pupils on free school meals.

Admission authorities (either the local council or individual schools like academies and free schools) do not have to offer a place to a family that does not apply to that specific school. So, one unanswered question is whether the new rules would encourage children from poor families to alter their pattern of application.

Even if they do, each school must already take all applicants unless there are more applicants than places. This means that the policy could make no difference to those less popular schools that already tend to take more than their fair share of pupils on free school meals.

And because the policy merely allows schools to use the pupil premium in their admissions process, many schools will continue not to. If these schools are the more popular ones, in leafy suburbs with fewer poor children, then pupils on free school meals who live further away will still not get places there. And even if schools do set priorities for pupil premium places, this will only matter if the proportion of places is higher than the percentage of children on free school meals in their current catchment area.

What’s happened in academies

Academies and free schools are already permitted to prioritise free school meal applicants. Most do not. But even if they do, the evidence is that this can make no practical difference.

For example, the rules for Kings Science Academy in Bradford prioritise 15% of places for children on free school meals. But perhaps because the local population figure for free school meals is 23%, the school has taken more than 15% every year since it opened in 2011.

On the other hand, Harpenden Free School in Hertfordshire has set aside 25% of its places for local children eligible for the pupil premium, but since opening in 2012 they have admitted no pupils eligible for free school meals (presumably because none have applied).

The policy also has dangers

In order to allow schools to prioritise children on the basis of free school meals (a measure of parental income), the proposed changes will inevitably weaken an important existing safeguard in the current schools admissions code.

This states that admission authorities must not give priority to children “according to the occupational, marital, financial or educational status of parents applying”. There are already exceptions to this law for academies and free schools, and where the child has a parent working at the school. In theory, the new rule will allow all schools to consider the financial status of the parents before deciding to give their child a place.

If the new policy was to be a requirement for all schools, and the level of priority was linked to the prevalance of families eligble for free school meals in each local authority area, then it certainly could improve social mobility. It would reduce free school meal segregation between schools, and all of the damage that this causes.

But allowing schools to choose whether to use this new approach could actually exacerbate the situation. Some schools will be unaffected, whether they prioritise children on free school meals or not. These will include the large number of schools with unfilled places who take all applicants, and any schools that set a level of priority below the local level of children on free school meals (such as Kings Science Academy).

A few schools may introduce the policies, tempted by the incentive of extra funding or making it their mission to provide excellent interventions for the largest number of disadvantaged pupils as possible. Their levels of children on free school meals will tend to grow.

Many over-subscribed schools already take less than their fair share of pupils on free school meals, partly because of the cost of nearby housing. Unless these schools use the new priority scheme, which would entail refusing places to nearby residents in favour of more distant poorer families, levels of economic segregation between schools in England will grow.

Stephen Gorard has previously received funding from the ESRC to investigate schools admissions in England and Wales.

Rebecca Morris does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

White lies make social networks stronger, but selfish lies tear them apart

The Conversation - Tue, 29/07/2014 - 15:15
If you lie, I'll move to another group.Sebastiaan ter Burg, CC BY-SA

“Lying is a bad thing – this is what mentors, parents and teachers tell us. But there is no society without lies.”

So says theoretical physicist Rafael Barrio, and when he and his colleague Kimmo Kaski from the Aalto University School of Science in Finland thought about this blatant discrepancy, the two computational scientists set out to simulate the effects of lying in a virtual human population. Their results, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, show that lying is essential for the growth of a cohesive social network.

The key to understanding the discrepancy is realising that all lies are not equal. “White lies” or fibs, are generally accepted. Their intention is to protect, benefit or help others, like reassuring a child on their efforts to play violin to motivate future improvement.

But some lies are selfish, when protecting oneself at the expense of another person or even lying to hurt someone else intentionally. They are condemned in most societies. In social psychology this behaviour is characterised as “antisocial” lying while fibs are referred to as “prosocial”, as they help to keep relations in good condition.

Between two people, this classification is intuitive. But how does a whole population react to different types of lies? This is the question Barrio and his team wanted to answer. They created a simple virtual scenario, which could then be used to build computer models.

In their scenario, 200 virtual individuals are connected by relationships of different strengths and each is assigned a random opinion on a hypothetical topic. Their one-on-one interactions make their levels of trust weaker or stronger, depending on the type of lies these individuals use and that changes the network of the society bit by bit. Some individuals were prosocial liars whose actions have a higher probability of increasing trust, whereas some are antisocial liars whose actions had a higher probability of decreasing trust.

The researchers ran the model repeatedly for around 200,000 interactions within the population, and recorded how the group structure evolves. “200,000 interactions is not much. In the real world, this is something that happens between people in three to four days, the sort of thing when there is some bit of news and everyone forms an opinion about it,” Barrio said.

Not surprisingly, in a population where everyone is perfectly honest, trust increases over time resulting in a well-connected group. But when Barrio decreased the level of honesty in the population by introducing either prosocial or antisocial liars, he observed a different change.

Antisocial deception led to fragmentation of the network, forming small and tightly connected groups of honest individuals that are weakly connected by dishonest agents. In an extreme case, when all agents in the model succumbed to antisocial lying it destroyed the network structure and led to complete isolation as a consequence.

The structure of a virtual society after interacting for a couple of days. Gerardo Iñiguez et al, Author provided

The effect of fibs, or prosocial lies, does not destroy the fabric of the virtual society. Instead, the network splits up into two large communities with strong social links of like-minded honest agents within the community and weak connections between the two big groups. These weak links are almost exclusively established by dishonest agents, which suggests that prosocial lying might actually enhance the cohesiveness in a society.

In the model, the level of honesty and type of lying is fixed for each individual – but opinions may change. At the start of each simulation, when agents were randomly assigned opinions, some were undecided. Barrio and his team observed that introducing more fibbing in the network reduced the number of undecided agents and concluded prosocial lying actually help people make up their mind.

Alistair Sutcliffe, expert in systems engineering at the University of Manchester said, “The novelty in this study is the differentiation between social and antisocial lying. In reality the tolerance to fibbing depends on the strength of the relationship.”

But it doesn’t always take a computer model to work out whether lying is good or bad. Charles Darwin understood the nature of lies almost 200 years ago. He looked at his own son and concluded: “He is a liar but a good chap.”

Host City Glasgow: ten things the tourist guides probably never mentioned

The Conversation - Tue, 29/07/2014 - 15:15
The dear green place, a year or two agoCC BY-SA

So you’ve travelled to the Commonwealth Games, you’ve done the standard tourist route and you’ve figured out that your English phrase book is not much cop. Panic no more. Here is your essential guide to the real Glasgow.

1. Preliminary lessons in Glaswegian

You are not in Glasgow (as in “throw,” and certainly not as in “cow”); you are in Glesga. Get that right to start with.

A dry warm day – any temperature above 55 degrees fahrenheit – means “taps-aff”, where males of various ages will be wandering around the city topless. Tops – often t-shirts or football shirts – are “taps” – and “aff” – well, “off”.

Taps aff! Charles Clegg, CC BY-SA

The hot weather at the start of the games led some to proclaim, “yon heat is pure murrderrr, so it is”. Understanding such terms will get you Glasgow bonus points: “Pure” denotes “really”. “Murrderrr” meaning “murder”, popularised by the TV detective series Taggart, means “difficult to take”. “So it is” is added emphasis.

Three other words will also help immensely: “aye”, “wee” and “dead”. The opening ceremony was arguably “dead good” (or “no’bad,” which is also really good); “wee” indicates the pejorative, such as “the wee dancers were brilliant”; “aye” is affirmative, as in, “aye, some of the Scottish stereotypes on display were cringe-inducing, but.”

2. What is Glasgow? – well it’s no’ Edinburgh

Lying only 52 or so miles apart, few countries can have two cities that are so different in so many ways. For many in Edinburgh, Glasgow is full of rough, criminal types who are prone to alcoholism and violence; and as they rarely wash, they are “soap dodgers”.

For many in Glasgow, well Glasgow is really Scotland’s capital city. It is more authentically Scottish, less “pan-loafy” (posh) and certainly not “all fur-coat and nae knickers” (superficial). Edinburgh is seen as primarily for tourists who seek the stereotypical Scotland of castles and tartan – hence the nickname “shortbread city”.

It might be nonsense – or “mince” – but many still believe that old Glasgow saying that, “the people of Glasgow have a better time at a funeral than the people of Edinburgh have at a wedding”.

3. ‘C’moan get aff’

“C’moan get aff” is a beloved contradictory Glasgow phrase long associated with the city’s bus conductors. On encountering a passenger who had somehow forgotten to purchase the required ticket and who was reluctant to do so on being challenged, the local version of “come on, get off” was the stock reply.

If you are travelling on public transport and someone asks, “comfy?” they are not referring to the quality of your seat. They mean: “where do you come from?”

Beware referring to the Glasgow underground as “the tube”, like you would in London. You will be identified as an outsider – an alien even. It is known as the “subway” – a “tube” in Glasgow is someone who is just plain daft.

They don’t make ‘em like they used to. Clive A Brown, CC BY-SA

4. Chicago on the Clyde?

Many have commented that both cities share what might be termed a similar sense of place. While the comparison might seem fanciful given Chicago’s size, part of Glasgow city centre is planned on a similar gridiron system. Glasgow’s imposing buildings and architecture convey a similar “feel,” including buildings constructed around iron frames, which have long been used in the largest US cities.

The likeness is uncanny! Bert Kaufmann, CC BY-SA

Both have their share of urban wastelands, and are built on important rivers. Unlike the Chicago River, though, the River Clyde has yet to be dyed green to celebrate St Patrick’s Day, or even an important victory for Celtic football club – even if Glasgow translates as the Dear Green Place.

5. Glasgow’s schemes

Lying beyond the city centre is a different Glasgow, much of it with a poor yet undeserved reputation for deprivation and dereliction. We are talking here about the schemes – not housing estates, which in Scotland tends to refer to private developments.

Glasgow’s schemes enabled the city to demolish its slum housing, and many were built to house much poorer sections of the population. This was reflected in the quality of housing, the layout and the level of amenities. The largest schemes were built on Glasgow’s outer edges – at Easterhouse, Drumchapel, Castlemilk and Pollok.

6. The Hielanman’s umbrella

Glasgow has long been a place of migration. In recent decades communities of Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and eastern Europeans have helped shape the city as it is today. Previous migrations have often been forgotten or overlooked.

Yet following the Highland clearances in the 19th century, tens of thousands of Highlanders came in search of a new life. Largely Gaelic speaking, they brought a bitter hatred of private landlords and the landed elites who removed them from their homes.

Watch out for hairy Highlanders! Donna Smillie, CC BY-SA

The Hielanman’s umbrella (“Highland man’s umbrella”) is the area underneath the main Central Station railway bridge as it passes over Argyle Street. It was where Highlanders would meet and shelter from the rain. They helped to shape the city’s culture, dialect and language; as well as its sense of struggle and politics.

7. “People Make Glasgow”

Visitors will notice many references to this latest city slogan. While for marketing folks it promotes a dynamic post-industrial city, more importantly Glaswegians have fought long and hard to make a city that is fairer and more equal. In every decade in the past century they have fought everything from poverty to poor housing to racketeering private landlords to racism. People make Glasgow in the sense of its struggle.

The city’s George Square is today a Commonwealth Games hub, but in the immediate aftermath of World War I, tanks circled, accompanied by soldiers determined to combat any communist uprising. This was the heyday of Red Clydeside – an era that spawned the world’s first workplace-based trade union activists.

8. La Pasionaria

Glasgow’s history as second city of the British Empire is well known, but other Glasgow international links could be celebrated much more. On the north banks of the River Clyde, close to the main shopping area, a statue celebrates the Glaswegians who fought to defend the Spanish republic in the late 1930s.

The statue – La Pasionaria – was erected in 1980. It is a constant reminder that struggles elsewhere – as with the naming of a city centre street after Nelson Mandela – are seen by some as Glasgow’s struggles too.

La Pasionaria: one of Glasgow’s more unusual memorials. Richard Paterson, CC BY-SA

9. The Glesga night oot

So you want a have a wee night oot in Glasgow? One could start at a famous Glasgow watering hole, The Horseshoe Bar, in Drury Street, close to Central Station. It is said to have the longest bar in Europe – in the shape of horseshoe, of course.

It has catered for Glaswegians since the mid-19th century. These days, it plays host to workers from the nearby commercial firms during daytimes. Later in the evenings the clientele might include political activists, musicians and trade unionists – and, of course, football fans.

If you are seeking a typical Glasgow meal afterwards, that can only mean one thing – time for a wee Ruby – “Ruby Murray” – a curry. Glasgow is one of the top places in the UK for its curry restaurants, boasting the likes of The Wee Curry Shop, Balbirs, Mother India and Richis. Indeed, one would be hard placed to find a restaurant selling everyday Glasgow food.

Pull oot yer nan and cover her in gravy! STV, CC BY-SA

10. Glasgow place names quiz

From the comfort of your trendy wee wine bar in Sauchiehall Street (or maybe the pub), can you say the following Glasgow place names in the Glesga way?

Arden, Auchinairn, Auchenshuggle, Barmulloch, Calton, Camlachie, Carmunnock, Carntyne, Carnwadric, Crossmyloof, Dalmarnock, Garngad, Garthamlock, Robroyston, Ruchill, Roystonhill, Ruchazie

Ask a local to help, and break the ice. Offer to buy them a drink first, of course.

To read the other parts of our Host City Glasgow series, click here.

Gerry Mooney does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

How to think slow and fight the fear of flying

The Conversation - Tue, 29/07/2014 - 15:15
Don't be nervous.Altair78, CC BY

Fears about air travel are common and entirely understandable. Human beings have not evolved to fly (beyond the fact that we have evolved brains sophisticated enough to invent aircraft). In an alien environment, suspended above nothing but air, and especially when strapped into a passenger seat entirely dependent on the aircraft crew (rather then being personally at the controls), it’s almost normal to be a little bit anxious. And, from a psychological perspective, it makes sense that recent crashes will cause people to have a heightened anxiety about flying.

Most anxiety – even rather odd or very severe phobias – is explicable if we take the time to understand where a person is coming from. Certainly, being apprehensive of flying in a thin-skinned metal tube, supported only by air pressure (and the furious energy of potentially fallible jet engines) several kilometres above the unyielding earth is a pretty understandable anxiety.

We live in an uncertain world and anxiety is a necessary survival strategy. Loud noises could signal danger, animals of all shapes and sizes could pose a threat. Children are, for obvious reasons of survival, likely to be nervous of unusual stimuli until they learn to navigate the world in safety.

And, for various reasons, we may learn to remain anxious. As we grow up, we learn of new dangers – from the cancerous rays of the sun to microscopic bugs that live on our skin. Occasionally we experience events that heighten our fear. Occasionally our parents can instil a more anxious (or a more confident) approach to life’s challenges. Emotional and physical responses to stimuli can also cause people to suffer from a range of anxieties.

So, in general, anxieties – even so-called phobias – are explicable. They are even meaningful (if perhaps extreme) consequences of understandable (if not necessarily entirely proportionate) ways of making sense of what is happening.

The ‘availability heuristic’

As well as merely reacting to the physical stimuli of air travel, people are making judgements about their situation when they have concerns about flying. They are evaluating their likelihood of safety. So when there are high profile tragedies, as there have been recently, it’s not surprising that these fears are exacerbated.

In part, this is down to what’s called the “availability heuristic”. Psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky have described how many of our judgements about quite important things in life are the product of “rules of thumb”, rather than detailed logical deductions. If we spent all our lives collecting systematic data on issues about which we need to make decisions, and then subjected that data to rigorous logical deductions, well, we would never get round to deciding anything. So we live by simple, rapid, rules of thumb.

So things we’ve seen (or heard about recently) tend to be seen as more common or more likely (even if that’s statistically not true). We can see this when there are high profile crimes; people’s fears about being themselves a victim of crime rises, even though, logically, such crimes must happen on a pretty regular basis and even if, logically, we know that the risk of crime is low and falling.

With air travel – an activity that is inherently slightly anxiety-provoking – a quick succession of major tragedies means our anxiety is naturally heightened. We are very much aware of the dangers of air travel, the risks are at the forefront of our consciousness and we are consequently more nervous.

Learning to ‘think slow’

So what can we do about it? Daniel Kahneman would probably encourage us to “think slow”. This means we should be aware that we tend to use these rapid ways of thinking, and the possible consequences of that; the errors we could make. Then, he might argue, we should take a mental step backwards, and weigh up, more objectively, the likelihood of something bad happening.

Objectively – statistically – we might conclude that air travel is very safe. It’s still more likely that we are involved in an accident driving to the airport than in an incident involving the flight itself. Given recent circumstances, we may also remind ourselves that our planned route does not cross disputed international territories or known war zones.

When on the plane, all the noises and incidents of flight may trigger anxiety. We hear the buzzing and clicking and thumping of machinery: flaps, wheels retracting etc. When that happens, again, we need to slow our thoughts. Rather than leaping to the unnecessary conclusion that we’re about to fall out of the sky, we can remind ourselves that the thump is the undercarriage deploying. When we hear a “ping”, we could turn our minds from assuming that something terrible has happened and remind ourselves that the cabin crew are probably just warming up dinner.

I’m planning to fly myself in a week’s time. I will not be particularly nervous. But I may just check the proposed flightpath of my route.

Peter Kinderman has received funding from a variety of sources, including Research Council grants, but has no potential conflicts of interest in respect to this article.

Was Airbnb’s ‘vagina’ rebrand meant to make people laugh?

The Conversation - Tue, 29/07/2014 - 15:14
The vagina monologos.Airbnb

Airbnb’s new logo prompted a torrent of response as soon as it was unveiled. Everyone seemed to have a (not very original) opinion about the rebranding – yes, it looks like a vagina. And it doesn’t stop there. I feel like Eve Ensler, author of the Vagina Monologues, as I sift through an abundance of articles, twitter feeds and blog posts about how the new logo looks like a vagina, balls, scrotum or bottom. You can even upload your own skewed or adapted versions of the logo on a dedicated Tumblr site. Not since the public reactions to the 2012 Olympic Logo have we had such a furore.

Airbnb’s CEO and founder, Brian Chesky, thinks otherwise:

I feel our brand of yesterday was starting to hold back our ability to go mainstream, and limiting people’s idea of what it could become. This new branding changes the whole identity and expression of the company.

The time is certainly right for a corporate rebranding exercise. The company now describes itself as a “global hospitality brand” and has experienced rapid growth since its conception in 2007. More than 11 million guests have found places to stay since then. This exponential growth has attracted investors, leading to recent valuations of the company in the region of US$10 billion. Not bad for a company which started in an apartment in San Francisco by two friends who wanted to supplement their income.

The combination of this swift rise to success and fiscal input has led to the current rebranding exercise led, in part, by the fact that the original logo was created in a haste by the founders. Rebranding is a common corporate pastime and there is a tendency to assume that changing a company’s identity will inevitably improve the company’s image. Not so far for Airbnb, if we are to agree with the cynics and gossips’ reactions to the new logo.

Seeing is believing

So is it a vagina? I take another look at the logo. Perhaps it’s an abstract representation of a womb. Sacha Greif, a designer from Paris thinks so. He makes links between the intention that Airbnb’s new logo is all about “belonging” and a mother’s womb, which, he kindly reminds us, is “the ultimate symbol of a safe, warm, and welcoming place”. Airbnb is all about accommodating strangers into our home – perhaps they’ve nailed it with this new identity.

Gizmodo ran a piece titled The New Airbnb Logo Is a Sexual Rorschach Test for Our Time, which was essentially a compilation of some of the more explicit tweets out there.

With this idea in mind, I set about collecting a few responses from my own network of colleagues, friends and family. I sent out the call to action and held my breath and hoped that this very scientific test wouldn’t produce any disturbing psychological disorders regarding the personality defects of my nearest and dearest. Ping! My first response. The Duchess aka “Female in advertising” says it looks like a “symbol for a vagina from a sanitary protection brand". Likewise, a male MD of a digital advertising agency says it looks like a “logo for a female hygiene product”. A male property developer decodes “phallic connotations” and asks innocently: “Is it aimed at girls or the gay scene?” “It looks anatomical” and “quite disturbing” yelps one male chief creative officer.

What is it with the advertising community? Perhaps my academic contacts would veer from these genitalia-focused replies. Ping! Professor Chris Hackley of Royal Holloway University of London said, “it reminds me of a British standard safety kite mark”. Similarly, a male senior lecturer retorted “Nappy Pin!” (Do we still use them?). Other more printable responses were “an upside down heart” (as Airbnb intended it to look) and, endearingly, “a paper clip” and “inclusive” (thanks Dad for the last one).

A sense of belonging

In order to have a successful brand and maintain a strong market position brand identity is essential. And this is most often exhibited through its external manifestation: the logo. This allows consumers to build a connection with a brand – which can reach fascinating heights. For example, when Ikea changed its font from Futura to Verdana in 2009, it prompted a furious online backlash.

The power of brand connection is exemplified by projects such as Lovemarks, which claims to be “the future beyond brands”, and “reach your heart as well as your mind”. Kevin Keller’s book on the topic explores those brands that seek to resonate with consumers to make a deep, enduring, personal and emotional connection. He stresses the need to have a brand logo that has favourable and unique brand associations.

The new brand logo needs to mutually reinforce what Airbnb wants to stand for and what they represent in the mind of the consumer. Its creators The Design Studio attempted to “unlock the power of belonging”. They conducted a vast amount of research into the pre-design of the symbol and revealed that what consumer insight and Airbnb agreed on was that the company was about people, places and love. Through generating symbols for each of these elements the “Belo” (or vagina) was born.

As consumers, we love to “get it” and see innuendo where others might not. In fact, websites are dedicated to the misdemeanours of logo fails. It’s easy to find articles on the phallic extension on the cartoon for Mont-Sat and the very inappropriate logo for the 1973 Catholic Church’s Archdiocesan Youth Commission. The overwhelming response to Airbnb’s logo demonstrates the centrality of brands to our lives and the symbolic representations they reinforce.

More interesting perhaps is what Airbnb and the Design Studio think about all this. Are they bothered? They don’t seem to be. After all, Airbnb want to stand for inclusivity and belonging. A vagina in the crudest sense refers to the birth canal and we as humans, all came from one. What could be more welcoming than that?

Kate Armstrong does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

Moving for work: not the panacea the government seeks

The Conversation - Tue, 29/07/2014 - 14:40
The government incentivises workers to relocate for a job, but is it incentivising the right workers?Faisal Akram/Flickr, CC BY-SA

As a policy response to unemployment and structural change, incentives for workers to relocate in search of work have been pushing higher up the policy agenda.

This has been the trend since the World Bank’s 2009 World Development Report, “Reshaping Economic Geography”, which abandoned the longstanding idea that governments should attract firms to sites where labour is abundant, and instead proposed that workers move to sites of job creation.

Worker mobility, spurred by the market forces of labour supply and labour demand, was celebrated as a means to unleash growth by enabling specialisation to flourish.

It follows that when job seekers find themselves living in areas with high unemployment, they are increasingly encouraged to move to places with more job opportunities. Labour mobility reduces labour market frictions and increases the quality of job matches. It also gives workers a wider pool of possible employment options.

The government’s Relocation Assistance to Take Up a Job program, announced earlier this month, embodies this logic. It offers assistance of A$6000 to eligible jobseekers who move to a regional area to take up a job and A$3000 for those moving to a metropolitan area. An additional $3000 is available to support the relocation of families.

To qualify, the new position must require more than 90 minutes travel; if the position is in a different capital city the destination city must have a lower unemployment rate. The funds can be used flexibly - for rental bonds, rental payments, removal costs and travel costs - but penalties apply if the job ends prematurely without an accepted explanation. To be eligible, a jobseeker must be registered with a Job Services Australia provider, have been in receipt of income support for at least 12 months, and be subject to activity test requirements. This programme replaces the under-subscribed 2013 Move 2 Work program.

Good in theory…

There are both practical and theoretical reasons to be wary of relocation as labour market strategy. Practically speaking, relocation is not an option for most job seekers.

The most important issue is the interaction of labour markets and housing markets. In places offering a range of skilled jobs, housing prices and rents are higher than they are in places with fewer jobs and less demand for housing. In places that are shedding jobs (Geelong, for example), house prices will be falling, so job-losers who sell to relocate are likely to absorb capital losses. Renters will face higher rents and difficulty finding suitable accommodation.

Consequently, jobseekers facing a move to a place with higher housing costs often discover they are better off – both financially and socially – by staying put and working in a less skilled and less well-paid job. This was the experience of former textiles workers in Camperdown and Warnambool in the early 1990s, former energy workers in the Latrobe Valley in the 1990s, and former Ansett Airlines workers in Sunbury in 2002.

There are other complications. Job vacancies have different spatial reaches depending on the skill demands – a rocket scientist might operate in a global labour market, a sales manager in a national market, a teacher in an urban market and an office cleaner in a local market. This means, contrary to the new policy, that job opportunities might be plentiful in an occupationally specific labour market, even if that town has a higher overall unemployment rate.

But in less skilled and less well paid occupations employers tend to recruit locally, a practice that makes practical sense. Even for higher skilled jobs, many firms now often recruit for multiple casual and part-time positions, offering reliable full-time work only to the best recruits. It would make no sense to relocate a family for a job that is not guaranteed to last, especially when an unsuccessful match risks draconian penalties.

The social impediments to relocation are no less important: people in relationships may be reluctant to move if the other partner does not wish to leave a career position; those with teenage children are unlikely to wish to be blamed for disrupting their children’s school performance; and those with young children, who rely on others to cope with the everyday emergencies of traffic jams and cancelled trains, are unlikely to risk losing their support networks.

Benefiting the advantaged?

All this means that encouraging relocation is another way of saying that policy will give preference to those who are able to relocate without difficulty - a cohort of younger, skilled and unattached jobseekers; people who are less likely to meet the new program’s eligibility conditions but are more likely to relocate on their own initiative.

The theoretical concerns about relocation policies warrant careful debate. Increasing worker mobility does not increase the total number of jobs in the national economy. What it is likely to do instead is sharpen recruitment, allocating jobs to the most qualified candidates in a larger applicant pool. But this might end up eroding the flexibility of the labour market as employers respond by demanding more exact skill set portfolios.

What relocation-led employment policies do not consider is the long-term implications of encouraging an exodus of skilled workers from lagging regions into already-crowded centres.

Sally Weller's research on labour mobility has been funded by the Australia Research Council.

Chief Scientist's view: the smart path for an uncertain future

The Conversation - Tue, 29/07/2014 - 14:38
We already have a good idea of the challenges ahead – and now we know how science can help.Kris Krüg/Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA

AUSTRALIA 2025: How will science address the challenges of the future? In collaboration with Australia’s chief scientist Ian Chubb, we asked how each science discipline will contribute to Australia now and in the future.

What will life be like in 2025?

There are probably as many responses to that question as there are people prepared to answer it.

Some look ahead to an exciting world of driverless cars, 3D printing and trillions of devices connected to a global web. It’s a world of opportunity for all.

Others see only a grim future of mass extinctions and ever-dwindling resources, with the benefits of new technologies carved up among the few.

The truth, of course, is that the story is not yet written.

We are the authors, not just the characters, in this our chapter – and we decide how we respond to the challenges the future throws down.

I believe that our capacity as human beings is profound. We know this from the historical record. From the time of the first known technological innovations, dating back some 72,000 years, new knowledge has enabled societies to leapfrog their competitors or live more securely in uncertain times.

We know it also from the record of our own lives. In 2005, who would have foreseen the impact of the iPad or the smartphone?

Approaching 2015, who can doubt that the decade to 2025 will be shaped by the leaders in science? That economic prosperity will be tied to scientific capability? That new ways of living must be found if our planet is to sustain us all in health and comfort?

Brad, CC BY-NC

It may inspire us, or overwhelm us, but through science we are changing our world. Surely we ought to take responsibility for changing it for the better.

At the start of this series we threw down this gauntlet to some of the brightest lights in Australian science. We framed an aspiration for 2025 that we hoped would speak to all of us, as scientists or citizens:

Australia in 2025 will be strong, prosperous, healthy and secure and positioned to benefit all Australians in a rapidly changing world.

Then we sought to understand what each of the disciplines could offer towards that goal.

I offer my sincere thanks to all of the scientists who have shared their incredible vision.

Very few of the issues raised are unique to any one article, a reminder that collaboration is essential if we are to see real progress on our goals. We need the new ways of thinking that spark when the disciplines combine.

At the same time, we need to keep sight of the unique contribution that every discipline has to make. In a cross-disciplinary world, we are only as strong as our weakest link. We need to be ready to snatch opportunity wherever it lies.

There are serious questions here for all Australians.

I hope the articles have informed you, challenged you – and perhaps changed your perspective on your own journey to 2025.

A discussion of the role of science in Australia’s future will be held at Parliament House on Tuesday September 2, 2014, from 11am-12pm.
The symposium will comprise five panellists: Michelle Simmons, Mark Buntine, John Gunn, Peter Langridge and Merlin Crossley. They, and Professor Ian Chubb, will take questions during the session, hosted by Leigh Dayton.
You can take part in the event which will be live-streamed on The Conversation website. Details to follow.

This article is the final instalment of the Australia 2025: smart science series, co-published with the Office of the Chief Scientist. Further reading:
Australia’s future depends on a strong science focus today
Physics: a fundamental force for future security
Proteins to plastics: chemistry as a dynamic discipline
Optimising the future with mathematics
Australia can nurture growth and prosperity through biology
A healthy future? Let’s put medical science under the microscope
Groundbreaking earth sciences for a smart – and lucky – country
To reach for the stars, Australia must focus on astronomy
Marine science: challenges for a growing ‘blue economy’
Building the nation will be impossible without engineers
Australia’s got ICT talent – so how do we make the most of it?
Statistics is more than a numbers game – it underpins all sciences
Agriculture in Australia: growing more than our farming future

Ian Chubb is Australia's Chief Scientist.

Strained from over-training? Sensors can help prevent injury

The Conversation - Tue, 29/07/2014 - 14:27
Jamaica's Yohan Blake – a dual silver Olympic medallist – injured himself in the lead-up to the Glasgow Games.Martin Rickett/PA Wire

As the 2014 Commonwealth Games began in Glasgow last week, a number of potential medal winners could only watch the events unfold as they were sidelined by injuries incurred at training.

Aussie track star Alex Rowe injured his hamstring during training on the weekend, and English heptathlete Katarina Johnson-Thompson (foot injury), Welsh triathlon star Helen Jenkins (plantar fascia) and Australian swimmers Meagen Nay (shoulder) and Jacqui Freney (fatigue) are some of the elite athletes who overdid training prior to the Games.

In the lead-up to major sporting contests, it is not uncommon for athletes to exert maximum effort during training – but this can lead to injuries and either sub-standard performance or withdrawal from the event.

But by using small wireless sensors, athletes can maximise medal chances without pushing themselves to the point of injury.

Prevention is key

In order to gain a place in the team, athletes must perform at their very best at the national selection trials. The training regime following the selection trials, particularly in the weeks before the Commonwealth Games, is particularly important.

A full recovery from even slight injuries might require more time than is available, even with the best medical and physiotherapy support.

There is no obvious way to prevent these injuries or to predict the situation and time at which they might occur. The coaches and trainers must always meet this challenge and sports technology offers hope.

Small wireless sensors can be used to monitor the movement of various body parts, and in all sporting situations (such as in the swimming pool, in the boxing ring, on the running track, on the hockey field) in training and during events. These small, battery-powered, inertial sensors are now becoming commonplace and are available at relatively low cost.

Wearable sensors helped athletes at the Sochi Winter Games.

These sensors might just be a possible solution to the training injury problem!

But off-the-shelf sensors do not come with the necessary analysis tools and are not standardised to the athlete’s characteristics or their sporting expertise. The key lies in the individualised interpretation of movement data, such as acceleration, rotation, speed, distance and number of repetitions.

Personalised medicine

Ensuring athletes have the most effective rehabilitation plan is largely dependent on their own characteristics, such as size, shape, age, fitness level and biomechanical structure.

For example, ankle extension of the foot is directly related to Achilles tendon “health”. This is important in preventing the onset of lower-leg injuries and helps prescribe exercise limits during rehabilitation from Achilles injury.

While the causes of this problem are well known, there is no specific quantitative information given in the guidelines as every athlete is different.

The SABEL Labs team at Griffith University aims to individualise training guidelines by studying athletes' basic movements at various levels (from novice through to elite) and in various sports (such as classical ballet, swimming, running, field hockey and rowing).

Once the training framework has been developed, the sensors will be used to monitor the training load, training movements and a warning is given if the athlete is approaching the critical limits when injury is more likely.

Martial sensors are taped to the lower leg and wrist. Boxing is a common cross-training technique used in many sports. Author provided

Usually the sensors are completely enclosed in fabric and are not visible (such as this wristband-mounted sensor). Author provided

Clearly this is not a simple, quick solution as the technique will only become reliable if the system is used consistently over long periods of training and competition times for one individual.

The movement data must also be matched to an individuals biometric data, skill level and fitness. For particular sports, the skill level can be ascertained through the use of calibrated drills:

  • in field hockey, stick speed and ball control drills have been matched to performance level
  • in swimming, swim speed and turn speed can be simply deduced from a single accelerometer located on the lower back
  • in tennis, racquet stability in forehand and backhand strokes and body movement during serve can be monitored
  • in dance, core stability during demi-plies correlates with scores given by a qualified instructor from the Royal Academy of Dance.

So while the using sensors to monitor training is possible and soon to be widely available for athletes to use, extreme training and variations in training immediately before a major event are not recommended.

The potential for injury is high and the consequences for an athlete can be devastating – as those missing out on the Commonwealth Games know only too well.

David Thiel works for Griffith University and has received funding from the Queensland Academy of sport, the Australian Institute of Sport and the Australian Research Council.

Rich but untapped data resource will let us make policy work better

The Conversation - Tue, 29/07/2014 - 14:08
The failure to publish collected data is hindering understanding of the effectiveness and failures of government programs.Flickr/LOD2project/European Data Forum, CC BY

The McClure Review of Welfare, much like the Commission of Audit report, is unlikely to win the Abbott government many new fans in the social services sector. However, for those involved in social policy, it is worth noting the interim report’s findings on open data. Both reports offer an insightful way to inform public discussion of social policy while improving its effectiveness.

Opening government data involves making it freely available for use in a machine-readable format and permitting re-use without restrictions. The McClure review’s interim report finds that:

Improving data collection nationally, together with evaluation of services, will assist in designing effective services for disadvantaged groups and targeting those services to those most in need.

The Commission of Audit points out that the failure to publish collected data is:

… hindering insights into whether some of the fastest-growing government programmes are meeting their objectives or being delivered effectively.

Squandering the power of knowledge

Current legislation in Australia greatly restricts the data available for social policy research. While special exemptions allow for the use and disclosure of health information where necessary for some research (into public health, for instance), this does not generally apply for social policy research.

We can study how soft-drink dependence is transmitted between generations more readily than studying the intergenerational transmission of welfare dependence. We can study how someone catches a cold in a way that we can’t study how they lose their job or their family. We can study what causes someone to pass on an illness in a way that we can’t study how they fall into crime.

The Australian Law Reform Commission recognised this when it reviewed privacy legislation. The commission recommended extending public health exemptions to human research more generally. Importantly, technology that allows data to be disaggregated and de-identified exists, ensuring that we also address important privacy concerns.

As Daniel Patrick Moynihan put it so eloquently, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not to their own facts. The trouble is there are lots of facts sitting in government data that the public cannot access. Often enough, not even the bureaucrats can.

These facts, were they available to everyone, could help us investigate the effectiveness of programs. They will help us discover what programs work and why, and how to further improve them. And they may also reveal ineffective programs, whereupon we should improve them or change approach.

The pay-off continues for decades

As Professor James Heckman’s work reveals through his analysis of data over numerous interventions, a whole lot of social programs might be justified as forms of redistribution but they were not necessarily efficient – they don’t increase total economic output. By contrast, Heckman shows that well-designed early childhood interventions make huge contributions not just to equity but to the economy more generally.

They are the gift that keeps on giving, rescuing at-risk kids from poor prospects. This pays dividends for decades afterwards in the form of higher employment, higher incomes, better educational outcomes, lower crime and on it goes.

Heckman’s research, among other studies in this field, has helped shape our understanding of the importance of early childhood interventions and improved our ability to make the case for investing in this area.

Open data gives us the tools to do the same kind of investigation in many other areas. It enables the identification of what works and what isn’t working. Both outcomes allow us to continuously improve.

Do we really want ineffective programs to continue? Do we really want to make short-term budgetary savings only to see total costs rise as poor educational, employment and other social outcomes hit the budget balance for decades to come?

Are we to be a dumb or smart country?

Those who do the difficult job of providing social services for little reward or thanks are increasingly evaluating program effectiveness. Their evaluations could be made much easier and cost-effective with greater access to existing data.

Speaking at the recent launch of a report by Lateral Economics, Open For Business: How Open Data Can Help Achieve the G20 Growth Target, Commission of Audit chair Tony Shepherd made some pertinent points on the need for open data. Among them was the fact that a country as sophisticated as Australia should be more advanced in making data available.

As the Commission of Audit notes:

Unlike many other countries, Australia makes relatively little use of its public data resources even though the initial costs of making data available would be low relative to the future flow of benefits … A failure to exploit this evidence would be a missed opportunity given Australia’s demographic and structural budget challenges.

This is why the less sensational recommendations on open data should see the light of day. We need to be driving every effort to improve the evaluation of support services and programs so that we can demonstrate what is working and where it isn’t, fix it.

Making data more available for social policy research is a relatively non-contentious way to improve the effectiveness of social programs. It would have the added benefit of informing the policy debate. We can’t afford not to.

This piece was co-authored by Amanda Robbins, Director of Equity Economics and previously a Treasury official and political adviser.

Nicholas Gruen is CEO of Lateral Economics and Chairman of the Centre for Social Innovation. This piece was co-authored by Amanda Robbins, a Director of Equity Economics and previously a Treasury official and political adviser.

Indigenous Australia in the era of 'good governance'

The Conversation - Tue, 29/07/2014 - 12:06
Aboriginal people are confident of their good traditional governance practices.yaruman5

Northern Australia is by no means exempt from the constant buzz around governance which has been a feature of Australian public life for the last decade. That’s particularly so in the area of Indigenous governance. We also hear a great deal about governance when it comes to “developing the north”.

And so we, in our small northern universities, find ourselves forming partnerships with all levels of government, industry, civil society organisations, Aboriginal organisations, and natural resource managers. As a result, we have become deeply implicated in the current government project of devolving responsibilities for service provision to individuals and communities.

Coming together by Skype and phone once a month over lunch, we share insights and puzzles around our work in governance research.

We pause to ask how we have found ourselves on this bewildering trajectory. Why? Because it seems that the “good governance agenda” is a by-product of global neoliberalising agendas that involve the disinvestment of governments in service delivery, and the promotion of markets.

Good governance and Indigenous policy

In Indigenous Australia, this might be seen historically as part of the gradual shift in government policy away from self-determination and reconciliation in the 1980s and 1990s. It has moved towards the contemporary “normalisation” of Aboriginal people through policy. Governments now exert themselves to induce civil society to take more responsibility for the work they have traditionally undertaken.

For this work, and especially for Aboriginal individuals and groups to be successful as “normal” citizens and corporations, they need to understand and implement “good governance”. And so good governance has currency in contemporary discourse and the regimes of development and training.

What about traditional governance practices?

Aboriginal people, of course, are confident of their good traditional governance practices. In many contexts these are largely unaffected by western governments. And in our experience, they remain insistent that their traditional practices are relevant to contemporary Australian life in the contexts in which they find themselves.

Governments, at all levels, are equally confident in the probity and necessity of their own governance practices. It’s where western and Aboriginal practices clash or sit uneasily with each other that the delivery of governance and leadership training is often called for.

In these contexts there is a fundamental incommensurability which top-down corporate governance and leadership training does little to alleviate. Working on a wide range of projects from land and sea management to indigenous housing in Northern Australia, we find that we have in common a need to grapple with the growing insistence of good governance. So we focus on opportunities to work creatively together to design “good-enough” governance structures and practices in particular contexts, rather than to deliver or enforce it.

For us, the challenge is to recognise the significance of the co-emergence of Indigenous governance practices, and state governance practices designed to promote markets in services.

It is their co-constituting mutualities — keeping separate and connecting up well enough, that matters. It’s what we must address if we are to work together in good faith – Indigenous Australia, academic researchers, civil society, industry and governments. We struggle to understand how their changing governmentalities affect our work as theorists and researchers, and our work involves massaging and explicating on both sides of the divide.

Research in an era of ‘good governance’?

Sometimes our research is oriented around service delivery as much as it is oriented around research and knowledge production. It may involve operating with the authority of the academy – while also facilitating others to generate partnerships and forms of collaboration. And it may require us to evaluate the efficacy of partnerships at the same time as we are involved in brokering and supporting these same partnerships.

In other words, as researchers, we are involved in doing governance in our projects at the same time as we are researching what governance in particular situations might be, or might become.

Much of this work is very local and specific, negotiating for example, good-enough practices for decision making around the constitution of a new remote Aboriginal corporation.

We might work to negotiate good practices for integrating traditional governance into the management of remote housing projects, or to co-design a digital tool that will help Aboriginal patients make informed decisions about treatment between their Aboriginal bodies and their biomedical diagnoses, or to develop accountable practices with cultural authorities and industry for a remote aquaculture project.

Policies can be changed from the ground up, if localised successful practices are negotiated, made visible and supported within the flexible workings of governments, civil society, industry, ancestral authority and the machinations of a university.

Noticing and connecting these localised successes reverberates upwards to change policies and practices. Documenting how this happens is part of our work.

“Indigenous governance” is a sign of something that is happening to all of us – and to understand it and ourselves as emerging from more fundamental changes may be key to more generative research collaborations.

While I’m listed as the author of this piece, I’d like to point out it’s the work of a group of researchers from the Northern Institute and other researchers at Charles Darwin University, and the Northern Futures Collaborative Research Network. You can read more about the group here.

Michael Christie and the GroundUp team receive funding from the Australian and Northern Territory Governments to undertake governance research. Other researchers in the group receive funding through the Northern Futures Collaborative Research Network.

Approval of Australia's largest coal mine ignores climate and water

The Conversation - Tue, 29/07/2014 - 10:08
The Alpha Coal Project in Queensland's Galilee coal basin. The Carmichael project is the second to be approved in the region. Lock the Gate Alliance, CC BY

Australia’s biggest coal mine, the Carmichael Coal and Rail Project, yesterday received the go-ahead from the federal government.

Environment minister Greg Hunt approved the mine, proposed by Indian coal company Adani Group, with 36 conditions to reduce the impact on water, wildlife, and threatened ecosystems, including returning 730 megalitres of water to the environment every year.

But experts warned the conditions do not account for the mine’s contribution to climate change, and may not be stringent enough to prevent damage to sensitive groundwater systems.

Hunt said that the mine was subject to the “some of the strictest conditions that have ever been imposed”, and denied the development will directly affect the Great Barrier Reef as claimed by some green groups. He said the Carmichael mine will lead to up to 3,000 jobs during construction, and a further 4,000 permanent positions.

The mine, which will produce up to 60 million tonnes of coal for electricity each year over 60 years, is proposed for the Galilee Basin, one of Australia’s richest coal reserves, in south west Queensland. It will include six open cut mines and up to five underground mines over 200 square kilometres.

The Carmichael mine is the fourth project to be approved in the area, including GVK Hancock’s Alpha Coal Project approved by Labor in 2012. At least a further five coal projects are awaiting approval.

Earlier this year the Queensland Land Court, following a challenge by communities, said the Alpha mine should only proceed if the development meets further conditions on water use.

Professor John Rolfe, a regional development expert at Central Queensland University, said that the environmental impacts are all “significant issues, but potentially addressable”. He said if India was not using Australian coal for electricity, it would find other sources.

He said the mine could offer “very large” economic benefits thanks to its scale and lifetime, but that it would depend on where the workforce was sourced.

“If the workforce flew in-flew out from Brisbane or Sydney… then regional Queensland would receive much smaller economic benefits.”

Australia’s coal reserves, including the vast, untapped areas of the Galilee basin in inland Queensland. Geoscience Australia, CC BY

Global climate impact

Under the environmental assessment process, greenhouse gas emissions from construction and day-to-day mining operations are included, but not emissions from burning the coal for electricity.

Professor Roger Jones, climate expert at Victoria University, said the total emissions from the Carmichael mine (including burning the coal) could account for 4% of global emissions by mid century under a scenario designed to keep warming below 2C, contributing between 0.011-0.027C to warming.

Professor Jones, who testified as an expert witness in the Queensland Land Court against the Alpha Coal mine, said if all coal mines under consideration for the Galilee Basin were operating they would exceed 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

The mine is inconsistent with a goal to keep global warming below the internationally-agreed guardrail of 2C, Jones said, and was more in line with warming of 4C, which would cause the widespread deaths of coral reefs, collapse of ice sheets, major ocean acidification and disruptions to agricultural systems, among other impacts.

Water concerns

Earlier this year a panel of independent scientific experts raised concerns about groundwater, particularly the ability of Adani Group to model and monitor groundwater flows. In approving the mine, minister Hunt said he had accounted for the concerns.

But groundwater expert Matthew Currell at RMIT University said the timeline of the mine might not allow Adani Group to get the modelling right.

“The Independent Expert Scientific committee pointed out serious flaws in their original groundwater model — they’re not things that can be quickly solved.”

The Carmichael mine, thanks to its sheer size, would have a significant impact on groundwater levels and flow, streamflow dependent on groundwater, and sensitive springs in the Great Artesian Basin, Currell said.

UPDATE: This article was updated July 29 to clarify the carbon emissions from the mine.

It was further updated on July 30 to correct the statement that the Carmichael Coal Project is the second coal project to receive federal approval. It is the fourth.

For further reading see: Why the Galilee Basin is worth worrying about

Hercules, body envy and the challenge of being man

The Conversation - Tue, 29/07/2014 - 06:31
"I've never been at a film where so much food was put away."© 2014 Paramount Pictures Corporation and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc.

Who wants to be Hercules? Judging by the huge amount of internet interest in the diet and fitness regime of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, former professional wrestler and star of the latest Hercules film, the answer seems to be almost every male from the age of 14 to 30.

Certainly, if the demographic of the audience for the Hercules screening that I attended is at all indicative, the appeal of the hero is broad. We were a diverse bunch. Some geeky, some sporting the latest fashions. Some thin and reedy, others looking like they could have been Dwayne’s body double. As a group, we cut across ethnic and class divisions.

The only thing that we had in common was that we were almost all men.

And we were hungry. I’ve never been at a film where so much food was put away. It was a good thing that the soundtrack was loud enough to drown out the sound of rustling chip packets, crunching popcorn, and the crack of choc-tops. Yet it seems appropriate that the arrival of the latest incarnation of this hero should have been welcomed by a chorus of consumption because it is through food that we have the best chance of imitating Hercules.

We live in the age of protein. Thanks to revolutions in the commercial production of meat combined with the presence of relatively cheap shakes, powders, and bars, we can now consume protein in a purity and density that is historically without parallel. The Greeks used to marvel at the thought of a hero consuming a side of beef. These days all it takes is a trip to the “health food” section of the supermarket aisle.

Eugen Sandow (1867–1925). whatsthatpicture

Looking like Hercules is now a possibility for more men than at any other point in human history. Previously, there was something freakish about bodybuilding figures. When Eugen Sandow, the father of modern bodybuilding, demonstrated his physique at West Point, cadets placed their hands on his pectorals as they “danced” in time with the music of a marching band.

They had never seen a body like it and they definitely never imagined themselves inhabiting such a torso.

Now that opportunity is within our grasp and the consequences of this profound revolution are something that we need to tackle. With the possibility of looking like Hercules comes burdens and anxieties. Incidents of body image problems among adolescent boys continue to rise. Psychiatrists are seeing increasing cases of “bigorexia”, a term coined to describe the variety of psychological problems associated with the pressure to look muscular.

Teachers are reporting escalating problems with steroid abuse at schools. Ordering diet supplements seems to have replaced pornography as man’s favourite illicit online activity.

A youthful Hercules. Wally Gobetz

All of this would have surprised and confused the Greeks. When they carved their statues, they knew they were fantasies. They represented ideals that could never be attained.

Look closely at a Greek statue and you’ll see the fantasy unravel before your eyes. The muscles are often unnaturally grouped. Pectorals hang without the abdominals to support them. Lines are carved in the marble with only a cursory attempt to replicate underlying anatomy.

Thanks to an ab-blaster anybody with dedication and 3% body fat can look like the front of the Greek statue. But I defy anybody to achieve a back like a Greek statue, where preconceptions about symmetry all too often mean that muscles are found in impossible combinations or abdominal lines don’t fade out at the hips as they do in nature, but actually continue round to meet the spine.

We are also rather selective about how we admire Greek statues. I know a number of men who’ve expressed a desire to have the stomach of a Greek statue. But I know no man who has wanted to have the genitals of a Greek statue. Like Jacqui Lambie, we seem to prefer things to come in slightly bigger packages.

Hercules, 2014. © 2014 Paramount Pictures Corporation and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc.

It is a shame that Hercules has come to represent nothing but a pile of muscles for us. The fad for imitating Hercules is not a new one. From antiquity onwards emperors, generals, Renaissance princes, and French kings have attempted to appropriate Hercules' mantle for themselves.

Yet, in all these cases, it wasn’t his body they were imitating, but his virtues. It was his courage, his fortitude, his preference for a life of struggle and pain instead of an easy comfortable existence that they admired.

One of the significant advances in this latest Hercules film is that Hercules is now accorded an inner life. He is not a mindless thug. The bloodshed and carnage that he leaves in his wake comes at a cost.

He is plagued by guilt for his actions. The black dog that snaps at his heels is depression, not Cerberus. When Hercules begs the Gods to let him be a good husband and father, he touches on a profound truth.

That seems to me the real challenge of being man, not how to achieve a six-pack.

Alastair Blanshard does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

From 8 to 80: designing adaptive spaces for an ageing population

The Conversation - Tue, 29/07/2014 - 06:30
Housing needs to be adaptive over our lifetimes.sean dreilinger

Important challenges are facing our society as the population globally ages thanks to higher life expectancy, better housing and living conditions and improved healthcare.

For individuals this is of course good news, but for communities it will place pressure on services to support the ageing population as it becomes more dependant.

Architects and urban designers like me need to take responsibility and consider designing cities, neighbourhoods, places and spaces that can adapt to these changing needs. Cities need to be inclusive, accommodating people with disabilities but also limited mobility.

Ageing at home

Communities need to be designed to be interdependent – to provide environments that encourage people to support one another as our life circumstances change.

Housing needs to be adaptive over our lifetimes. This means we need to design spaces that could house a society with changing needs from “8-80” – housing and cities should accommodate changing generational needs and lifestyles, from a child to a couple, to elderly people possibly living on their own or needing support or care.

There are many examples internationally of the 8-80 concept, in Toronto, Canada 8-80 cities are supporting sustainable neighbourhoods.

In the UK, the Barker Review of Land Use Planning, commissioned by the government in 2005, consulted widely across the construction industry and professional bodies to consider how housing supply should meet demand.

From the Barker Review came initiatives to create “age responsive housing” and ideas of “lifetime homes”, houses that are designed so they can change as the housing needs change, with movable partitions and easily accessible bathrooms.

This means people can “age in place” and stay in their own homes as they get older, rather than move to a new adapted home. According to a report released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare last year, ageing at home is something that older Australians prefer.

The Commons, Brunswick. Lorraine Farrelly

‘The Commons’ in Brunswick

Adaptive housing is also an important part of the sustainability agenda. Sustainability involves sustaining the community, not just preserving energy and recycling materials. A sustainable community can continue, evolve, and develop over time.

The Commons, a residential complex in Melbourne, is an interesting example of this and was open to the public to explore on Sunday as part of Open House Melbourne. The Commons is a small project, completed last year, along the railway line next to Anstey station on Florence Street, Brunswick. Designed with no parking, residents all have bicycles. The project is located along a purpose designed cycle route into the city.

From a design perspective, the architects Breathe Architecture have designed simple spaces, with a utilitarian approach, an industrial aesthetic and honest practical materials – concrete countertops and floors.

The Commons, Brunswick. Lorraine Farrelly

More interesting, however, is the approach to community. There are spaces that encourage people to meet through everyday activities. The ground floor has a shared cycle store and cafe where residents meet on the way in and out – but the rooftop is where the real community space exists. With fantastic views to Melbourne in the south, there is a rooftop garden in which residents each have a “grow box” to grow and share vegetables.

A laundry space is where everyone meets over everyday tasks and a rooftop drying space takes advantage of the natural windy spot. This project also has a carefully considered approach to energy use with photovoltaic (PV) panels to generate electricity.

The approach to building a community where residents across all generations are building a community gives a great deal of optimism for the future of inter-generational living in the middle of the city.

As our population changes and the needs of our society shift, we all need to take part in the discussion about creating a more supportive community.

The city offers support systems such as social services and healthcare, but as communities we also need to adapt our buildings to encourage new social attitudes.

And we all need to engage and participate to create these adaptive environments.

Professor Lorraine Farrelly is giving a public lecture at 6pm tonight, Tuesday July 29, on Designing for the Third Age in the Percy Baxter Lecture Theatre at Deakin’s Geelong Campus.

Lorraine Farrelly is Professor of Architecture at the University of Portsmouth in England. She is currently 'Thinker in Residence' at Deakin University for six weeks.

Ten job seekers per vacancy: a reality check on welfare overhaul

The Conversation - Tue, 29/07/2014 - 06:29
Anyone who imagines most job seekers have it easy probably hasn't been out of work recently.Flickr/Florian Simeth, CC BY

It turns out that the policies for under 30s in the federal budget in May were a precursor to a much wider set of changes affecting unemployed people across the board. These are just now coming to light. While people aged 30 and over won’t have to face a potential six-month wait to receive payments, nevertheless the Newstart unemployment payment is to become a much more conditional payment, with a considerably tougher set of eligibility requirements.

As a reminder, the full payment for a single person for Newstart Allowance is $255.25 a week. The rate of payment has been widely criticised as inadequate by many groups including the OECD and the Business Council of Australia, which makes the point that its low level is actually a barrier to effective job searches and employment.

Nevertheless, the government is proposing to make sure recipients “earn” every cent of this payment through an expanded “work for the dole” program for recipients up to the age of 49. People aged 50-60 will be required to undertake an “approved activity” under “mutual obligation”. Another new obligation is that people receiving Newstart will have to apply for around 10 jobs a week or 40 a month, roughly double the current requirement.

In fairness, the government is also saying that it will improve the employment services system to help people in their work search endeavours. This has been a theme for as long as I can remember in government efforts to increase employment services outcomes since the mid-1980s. But, however “effective and efficient” the service provider can be made, receiving a Newstart Allowance will be a singularly tough gig for anyone unfortunate enough to lose a job, or to be looking for a job after finishing a stint in education and training.

Greater “work for the dole” and work search requirements also have far-reaching implications for employers and organisations who host “work for the dole” programs.

More applications does not make more jobs

The overall unemployment rate is now 6%, and 13.5% for 15-24 year olds. In May there were 146,000 job vacancies with 720,000 people unemployed. Another 920,000 were underemployed and wanting more hours of work. Underemployment is a very important labour market indicator as, under the terms of internationally agreed labour statistics collection, an individual is counted as employed if working one hour a week for pay or profit.

Altogether, these figures mean 1.64 million people who have no work or not enough work are potentially competing for available job vacancies.

While the labour force underutilisation rate of 13.5% suggests that there are around 10 potential job applicants for each vacancy, we need to consider that some sectors of employment will have very large pools of applicants. This applies especially to those jobs with broader skills requirements.

This is the core reality of the Australian job market. The intensification of job search requirements means people receiving Newstart will be coerced into applying for many jobs that they have very little chance of obtaining.

No one suggests that they shouldn’t be doing what they can to find a job, but futile applications for jobs serve no purpose but to tick the boxes to receive a payment. It is an immense strain on the unemployed person – as if being unemployed and living on Newstart isn’t hard enough.

Employers can expect to sort through hundreds of applications completed by job seekers having to submit 40 a month., CC BY-SA

The government might also consider the burden it imposes on employers and employment service providers. Many employers will be inundated with unsuitable applicants. We might speculate that they will be less inclined to advertise positions attracting hundreds of applicants, perhaps opting for more informal means of recruitment.

At the same time, employment service providers will be tasked with pushing unemployed people into inappropriate job search efforts.

A further consideration is how “work for the dole” is to be expanded. Having worked in a number of NGOs, I am well aware that it is no simple task to take on a “volunteer” in terms of supervision and support; even more so someone who is mandated to do unpaid work so that they have some income to live on. It is an invidious and very unpleasant scenario for the type of organisations that the government wishes to impose on for “work for the dole” places.

And as economist Jeff Borland has pointed out in The Conversation, the outcomes of “work for the dole” program are very weak and largely a waste of time.

The question then must be asked: what is the government trying to achieve? Certainly, the outcome of its new policies for under 30s and the imminent policies for anyone on Newstart will be more stigmatisation for being unemployed, and more deterrence to making claims for payments.

Perhaps, there are some other motives related to long-term reduction in minimum wages, with more people prepared to work under the counter just to survive, as suggested in a thoughtful article by Fiona Scott-Norman in The Big Issue (July 4-17).

The final word on being unemployed

It’s worth recalling that it is very hard now being unemployed and in receipt of Newstart. I will let a woman in her early 50s who I interviewed for my doctoral research have the final word:

On Newstart there is constant pressure. Most of my time [is] taken up with job searching. In this time (three years) I have applied for over 600 jobs with a rate of one interview for every ten jobs I applied for. And out of these, resulted in two jobs … but only lasted the extent of probation. I found myself underperforming due to depression and lack of confidence.

By the way, she had a university degree and had worked many years in the public sector.

Veronica Sheen does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

Updated: 30 July 2014/ Responsible Officer:  College Dean / Page Contact:  CASS Marketing & Communications